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Garganega

Garganega, as it turns out, is far more than just the grape used to make Soave and Gambellara in Veneto, northern Italy. In the early years of the 21st century, DNA profiling revealed that Garganega is the same variety as Grecanico Dorato, a mainstay in the vineyards of Sicily. Veneto and Sicily, separated by Italy's full 600-mile length, are collectively home to more than 11,000 ha (27,000 acres) of Garganega vines, making the variety one of Italy's most widely planted, in every sense. Whichever end of Italy it comes from, the classic Garganega wine is marked out by aromas of peach blossom, almond, apricot and baked golden apples.

Despite the worldwide fame of its key wine style, Soave, Garganega itself remains virtually unheard-of. This is largely because the variety's name isn't included on Soave wine labels. In an increasingly variety-centric wine world, any grape whose name never appears on labels is almost certain to remain in the shadows. It doesn't help that Garganega is neither easy to pronounce nor particularly pleasing to the ear.

In its homeland – the Veneto region of northeastern Italy – Garganega is held in very high regard indeed, both in the vineyard and the winery. Growers appreciate the variety's generous yields, and the loose-knit bunch structure, which increases ventilation and reduces the risk of fungal disease. This latter quality is also an advantage when it comes to drying the grapes (appassimento) for the production of sweet Recioto wines.

Winemakers also appreciate the grape for its high yields, but perhaps more so for its moderate acidity, elegant perfume and high concentration of aroma compounds. This useful combination of qualities allows them to establish their own balance between quality and quantity. If they restrict the variety's naturally abundant yields, their reward is higher quality grapes and finer wine. If they leave the vines unchecked, they have more wine to sell. Few varieties allow winemakers to position themselves so freely on the quality:quantity scale.

Regrettably (for consumers, at least) many Soave producers have long erred on the side of quantity, giving Soave a far less impressive reputation than it otherwise could have. In the end, it may prove to be a blessing that Garganega's name is not associated with these lower-quality wines; the name remains unknown, but untarnished.

Garganega's localised prestige is most obvious in Soave's Classico zone, where the vineyards are devoted almost entirely to this single variety. This is the heartland of quality Soave, where traditions are strongest and almost all the finest Soave wines are made. Very few producers there blend their Garganega with other varieties, even though the DOC laws permit the inclusion of up to 30 percent Trebbiano di Soave (AKA Verdicchio), or Chardonnay.

Although best known for its dry wines, Garganega has shown a clear ability to produce sweet wines, particularly luscious nectars made from dried, late harvest grapes. Both Soave and Gambellara produce such wines, under the name Recioto. When made in this passito style, Garganega wines are richly textured and have concentrated aromas of honey, candied lemon peel, tropical fruits and sweet spices.

The variety's contribution to Italian viniculture has been significant in various regards. Not only is it one of the country's most widely planted varieties, it is also one of the oldest. The northern Italian elite have been praising Soave wines since at least the 6th century, when Cassiodorus (a statesman to King Theoderic the Great) described them as being "white and pure as a lily". it is the forefather of numerous other varieties, including Veneto's own rarity Dorona di Venezia.

In addition to the aforementioned appellations, Garganega is used in various other DOC wines from Veneto, most notably Bianco di Custoza, but also Arcole, Colli Berici, Monti Lessini and Vicenza. It can also be found in neighbouring Friuli and around Lake Garda in Lombardy. Further south in Umbria, the hills of Colli Amerini and Colli Perugini are home to some Garganega vines whose grapes are used as a minor blending ingredient for dry white and sparkling (spumante) wines.
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